Wednesday

1st Dec 2021

France, Ireland scoop top posts in EU diplomatic corps

  • Mr Vimont is currently France's ambassador to the US (Photo: SETH BROWARNIK/RED EYE PRODUCTIONS)

French career diplomat Pierre Vimont and Irish EU official David O'Sullivan are to take two of the top posts in the European External Action Service (EEAS).

EEAS chief Catherine Ashton made the highly anticipated announcement at an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg on Monday (25 October) after a final agreement between member states, MEPs and her own bureau on the legal architecture of the corps.

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"I promised to appoint the brightest and best and in Pierre Vimont as the executive secretary general, and David O'Sullivan as chief operating officer I have done just that. Pierre is held in the highest regard by the diplomatic community and will bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise on foreign policy issues. David has served in the highest capacity in the European Commission, as well as having a diplomatic background," she said in a written statement.

The communiqué added that the rest of the EEAS top posts "will be filled in the coming weeks." But EU diplomats expect two more big nominations to come out before the weekend.

The main outstanding appointments include two deputy secretary generals, five managing directors and the head of its intelligence and crisis-management unit, known as the Joint Situation Centre. The five directors will cover Africa; Asia; post-Soviet and western Balkan countries; North and South America; and human rights and UN relations. Another 80-or-so senior postings to overseas EU embassies are also in the pipeline.

German EU official Helga Schmid and Poland's Maciej Popowski, currently working as head of the European Parliament President's cabinet, are being talked about in Brussels as the two likely deputy secretary generals.

German EU official Gunnar Wiegand and the Swedish EU special representative for south Caucasus, Peter Semneby, have applied to run the post-Soviet/Balkans department. The head of Finland's intelligence services, Ilkka Salmi, is said to be a leading contender for the Joint Situation Centre post.

Ms Ashton's accent on hiring the "brightest and best" candidates had to be weighed up alongside a need to have geographic and institutional balance in the EEAS cadre.

The service must ensure backing from Berlin, Paris and London in order to have clout on the world stage. The EU's newer countries and its smaller members have clamoured for places at the top table. MEPs have also called on Ms Ashton to hire commission staff to protect the "communitarian" nature of the new institution.

Ms Ashton's Monday statement noted that the 61-year-old Mr Vimont has in the past served as chief of staff to three French foreign ministers and was French ambassador to the EU during the French presidency of the bloc in 2000. It recalled that the 57-year-old Mr O'Sullivan has previously run the European Commission's education and trade departments, was head of cabinet for former commission president Romano Prodi and was commission secretary general.

The two men will each earn at least €16,600 a month.

The Vimont job description says he will be "responsible for the formulation and implementation of policy," ensuring "the smooth functioning of the EAS," chairing meetings in Ms Ashton's absence and "maintaing relations" with EU members and countries beyond the EU. The Brussels-based post includes "extensive travel."

Mr O'Sullivan is to be responsible for "administrative and budgetary management ... strategic communications ... human and financial resources." He will also "provide strategic policy guidance" and undertake "missions" from time-to-time on Ms Ashton's behalf.

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